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Cancer deaths decline in US, with advances in prevention, detection and treatment

Date Published: 02/04/2020 [Source]

The American Cancer Society recently reported a drop in the overall cancer death rate in the U.S., with an overall 29% decline in cancer deaths from 1991 to 2017.

This resulted in 2.9 million fewer deaths over this span.

This decline was mainly attributable to progress in the four most common cancers: lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancer. This included a record decline of 2.2% in the last year of the report (2016-2017), led by a particularly steep recent drop in lung cancer. And, an article published Jan. 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that screening current and former heavy smokers with a low-dose CT scan is helping to detect the disease earlier, which is contributing to lower mortality.

I am the chief of hematology/oncology and medical director of the Cancer Center at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and UMass Memorial Health Care. I take care of patients with cancer, with particular expertise in leukemia and related diseases. The steady decline in cancer deaths is quite encouraging, particularly in lung cancer which provides a great example of how public health campaigns can change the course of a disease.

Lung cancer deaths drop signficantly

A number of factors have contributed to the reduction in lung cancer deaths, according to the report. Prevention has had a profound impact in reducing lung cancer over the past 25-plus years, primarily through smoking prevention and cessation programs. Smoking among adults is at an all-time low in the U.S., at 13.7%. Tobacco is a risk factor for most cancers, and this is particularly true for lung cancer, where smoking is the single greatest cause.

Improved radon detection and mitigation has also helped, as radon exposure represents the second most preventable cause of lung cancer.

Advances in treatment have accounted for the remainder of progress in lung cancer. The introduction of new drugs, including immunotherapy which won the 2018 Nobel in Medicine and Physiology for its ability to harness the power of the immune system to kill cancer cells provides hope for previously untreatable patients.

Despite these successes, lung cancer is still the leading cause of cancer death, with 228,820 new cases and 135,720 deaths predicted for 2020 in the U.S.